‘F9’ Roars Past $45 Million on Opening Day in China Despite Security ‘Threat’

Fast 9
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

UPDATED: “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, is already revving up for a box office takeover — though in a lower gear than other films in the franchise.

Its release appears not to have been marred by what Universal Pictures called a security “threat” earlier this week that forced the studio to abruptly cancel a major promotional event in Shanghai.

On Friday, “Fast & Furious 9” comfortably raced to the top of the box office chart, scoring RMB231 million ($35.8 million) by 5.30pm local time, and claiming an 88% market share, according to data from ticket sales agency Maoyan. That gave it a running total of RMB292 million ($45.3 million) including sneak previews and midnight screenings.

A solid start was clearly on the cards. The film racked up more than $32.6 million (RMB210 million) in pre-sale tickets, making it the most hotly anticipated Hollywood tentpole of the year so far. It broke the RMB100 million ($15.5 million) pre-sale mark at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and the RMB200 million ($31 million) mark at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, according to Maoyan.

The agency is estimating that the film will gross $52.2 million (RMB336 million) on opening day, $162 million (RMB1.04 billion) over its three-day opening weekend and $337 million (RMB2.17 billion) over the full course of its run.

Although impressive by recent COVID-struck standards, those projected figures for its total China gross would make “F9” the least successful “Fast & Furious” film in China in nearly a decade.

The estimated tally is less than the Chinese gross of both 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” which earned $393 million, and 2015’s “Furious 7,” which earned $391 million. Both films were far more successful in China than in North America.

Although the “F9” roll-out appears to be motoring along smoothly now, it hit a snag on Tuesday when Universal Pictures suddenly canceled a major Shanghai press conference due to an unspecified safety threat — one apparently serious enough that it was reported to local law enforcement.

“Universal Pictures has received threats trying to stop the press conference from being held as planned, which have created certain safety hazards,” it said in an official statement posted to Weibo Tuesday afternoon, without providing further details. Just hours before, it had been putting out new posts promoting the event.

NBCUniversal has not yet responded to Variety’s request for comment.

Online, thousands of comments speculated as to what the threat could have been.

“What? Why does the wording of this sound like there was an attempted terrorist attack?” one Weibo user asked.

Some speculated that perhaps someone wanted to stop the film’s release, though many were incredulous that a real threat could emerge in China, where guns are banned. Others wondered if the cancellation could be related to restrictions on group gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though large-scale events have gone on in China for months now without issue and Shanghai never formally locked down at all.

“If this was a promotional stunt, it was really cost-effective and efficient,” a commenter joked.

Though “F9” grossed a respectable $9.23 million (RMB59.4 million) in midnight screenings  the tally still wasn’t enough to boost it to number one at the daily box office on Thursday.

Instead, it was held back by the gritty local romance “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” directed by Sha Mo (“My Huckleberry Friends”). Starring Qu Chuxiao (“The Wandering Earth,” “The YinYang Master”) and Zhang Jingyi (upcoming “1921”), it tells the story of young man who struggles for a decade to make enough money to support the woman of his dreams, who has waited for him the whole time.

“Love” was clobbered within hours of “F9” formally opening on Friday, but likely enjoyed a boost Thursday thanks to the May 20 “520” holiday — a sort of recently invented Valentine’s Day popular with young internet users and the brands that market to them, created because the pronunciation of the numbers “520” in Chinese sounds a bit like “I love you.” (A second, more traditional local Valentine’s Day equivalent hits on July 7, known as the Qixi Festival.)

Nevertheless, “F9” is almost guaranteed to take over the world’s largest film market in the coming days. Cinemas have allocated over 60% of all screenings nationwide Friday to the title, which faces no new or holdover competitors of note. “F9” is currently scheduled to maintain over 70% of nationwide screenings through at least next Wednesday.

Word of mouth could shift performance, however.

Variety’s review said the film “feels stuck in the past,” featuring scenes that read as “the wrong kind of funny” and make the tentpole appear at times “ridiculous.”